Correctional Facilities: Prisons and Jails

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Chapter 6
Correctional Facilities: Prisons and Jails

Public views of crime and punishment have changed over the centuries. Yet in general most societies have moved from the extraction of personal or family justicevengeful acts such as blood feuds or the practice of taking "an eye for an eye"toward formal systems based on written codes and orderly processes. Jails and prisons have changed from being holding places where prisoners awaited deportation, maiming, whipping, or execution to places of extendedeven lifelongincarceration. Confinement itself has become the punishment.


During the colonial period in the United States physical punishment was more common than incarceration. Stocks, pillories, branding, flogging, and maimingsuch as cutting off an ear or slitting nostrilswere typical punishments meted out to offenders. The death penalty, too, was used frequently. In 1636 the Massachusetts Bay Colony listed thirteen crimes that warranted execution, including murder, practicing witchcraft, and worshipping idols. In early New York State, 20% of offenses, including pocket picking, horse stealing, and robbery, were capital crimes (warranting the death penalty). Jails were used to hold prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing or as debtors' prisons, but a stay in jail was not considered a punishment itself.

The Puritans of Massachusetts believed that humans were naturally depraved, which made it easier for some of the colonies and the first states to enforce harsh punishments. In addition, since Puritans maintained the view that individuals had no control over their fate (predestination), few early Americans supported the idea that criminals could be rehabilitated.

The Quakers, led by William Penn, made colonial Pennsylvania an exception to the harsh practices often found in the other colonies. The early criminal code of colonial Pennsylvania abolished executions for all crimes except homicide, replaced physical punishments with imprisonment and hard labor, and did not charge the prisoners for their food and housing.

The Reform Movement

The idea of individual freedom and the concept that people could change society for the better by using reason permeated American society during the 1800s. Reformers worked to abolish slavery, secure women's rights, and prohibit liquor, as well as to change the corrections system. Rehabilitation of prisoners became the goal of criminal justice, and inmates were given work to keep them busy and to defray the cost of their confinement. Prison administrators began constructing factories within prison walls or hiring inmates out as laborers in "chain gangs." In rural areas inmates worked on prison-owned farms. In the South prisonersmost of whom were African-Americanwere often leased out to local farmers. Prison superintendents justified the hard labor by arguing that it taught the offenders the value of work and self-discipline. Many free citizens, after all, earned their livings doing such work in factories and fields.

With the rise of labor unions in the North, the 1930s saw an end to the large-scale prison industry. Unions complained about competing with the inmates' free labor, especially amid the rising unemployment of the Great Depression. By 1940 the states had limited what inmates could produce. By 1970 the number of prison farms had decreased substantially because they were expensive to operate and the prisons found it cheaper to purchase food. In addition, agricultural work no longer prepared inmates for employment outside prison. Since the 1970s, however, support has grown for prison industries as a way to train inmates for outside jobs.

As crime increased during the late 1980s, criminal justice practices such as indeterminate sentencing, probation, parole, and treatment programs came under attack. Support decreased for rehabilitative programs and increased for keeping offenders incarcerated; many people subscribed to the idea that keeping criminals off the streets is the surest way to keep them from committing more crimes. As a result, the federal government and a growing number of states introduced mandatory sentencing and life terms for habitual criminals (often called "three strikes" laws after a baseball analogy, meaning that after three convictions "you're out"). They also limited the use of probation, parole, and time off for good behavior.


Corrections institutions are organized in tiers by level of government and, at each level (federal, state, and local), specific types of institutions provide corrections functions based on the relative severity of the offenses committed. The most restrictive form of corrections is incarceration in a prison. Both the federal and the state governments operate their own prison systems; within the federal government, the military maintains its own prisons. Prison inmates serve time for serious offenses and are incarcerated for a year or longer.

Most people sentenced to jail serve less than a year for misdemeanors and offenses against the public order. Jails are operated at the local levelby cities and counties. The federal government operates some jails as well, and within the federal government, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has its own detention facilities. In some states, jails and prisons are operated under a single state authority but still maintain the distinctionprisons for long terms and for serious offenses, jails for lesser terms and less serious offenses.


The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) maintains institutions at five different security levels, and prisoners are assigned based on their offenses and behavioral history:

  • Minimum Security : At the lowest security level are Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), such as those in Yankton, South Dakota, and Montgomery, Alabama. These facilities have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. They are located on or near larger institutions or military bases, where the inmates participate in work programs.
  • Low Security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) : FCIs have fenced perimeters and dormitory cubicle housing. Inmates are typically involved in work programs.
  • Medium Security FCIs : These facilities feature reinforced perimeter fencing, usually a double fence with an electronic detection system. In addition, inmates are housed in cells and have access to work and treatment programs.
  • High Security United States Penitentiaries (USPs) : The most secure environment in the federal prison system includes highly secured perimeters with walls and reinforced fences. Inmates are held in multiple- or single-occupant cells, are closely watched, and do not have freedom to move around within the facility without supervision.
  • Administrative Facilities : These facilities hold offenders awaiting trial or treat inmates with serious medical needs. Special facilities also may be used to house the most dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates. These include Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs), Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), the Federal Transfer Center (FTC), and the Administrative-Maximum USP (ADX).

The BOP administered 174 facilities as of 2007, including twenty-one high security penitentiaries, sixty-eight federal correctional institutions, and six minimum-security prison camps. At that time nearly six out of ten federal prisoners (57%) were held in low or minimum-security facilities, with 28% in medium-security institutions, and 11% maintained under high security. The remainder had not been assigned a security level.

Federal Inmate Populations

Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 (May 2006, that since 1995, the federal prison population has grown more quickly than the state prison population. The rate of growth in the federal prison population averaged 3% between 1995 and 2005 and reached its peak of 6% in the first six months of 1999. In the first six months of 2005 the number of federal inmates increased by 2.3%, more than twice the increase experienced at the state level.

The number of noncitizens held in federal prisons increased by 30% from 1998 to 2000 before falling in 2001; between 2001 and 2005, however, the number of noncitizens held in federal prisons increased by about 4%. (See Table 6.1.) In 2005 federal prisons held 35,285 noncitizen inmates in custody, representing about 19% of all prisoners in federal custody. In many cases these are individuals who were caught violating immigration and border security laws.

Harrison and Beck report in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 that federal admissions (the number of new inmates added to the federal prison population) increased 21.2% from 43,732 in 2000 to 52,982 in 2004. During this period, the number of releases increased 32.2%, from 35,259 in 2000 to 46,624 in 2004. The number of admissions was higher in 2004 than the number of releases, resulting in an increase in the federal prison population that year of more than 6,300 inmates.

Noncitizens held in federal prisons, 19982005
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 6. Number of Noncitizens Held in State or Federal Prisons at Midyear, 19982005," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
Percent change, 20042005 0.8%   2.5% 2.7%

In Prisoners in 2005 (November 2006,, Harrison and Beck report that more than half (55%) of all federal inmates were sentenced for drug offenses. This rate is down from 60% in 1995. Between 1995 and 2003, the number of federal inmates convicted of public-order offenses increased by 170%; most of this growth was due to a 394% increase in immigration offenses.

Federal Facilities and Staffing

The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that in January 2007 federal prisons had 35,198 staff members ( Almost three-quarters (72.6%) of federal prison staff members were male. A majority (64.1%) were white; most of the remainder were African-American (21%), Hispanic (11.3%), Asian (2.1%), or Native American (1.5%). The federal government's total corrections payroll was $165.4 million in March 2003.

Number of persons held in state or federal prisons or in local jails, selected years 19952005
YearTotal inmates in custodyPrisoners in custodyInmates held in local jailsTotal incarceration ratea
Note: Jail counts are for midyear (June 30) and exclude persons who were supervised outside of a jail facility. State and federal prisoner counts for 19952003 are for December 31.
Not available.
aPersons in custody per 100,000 residents in each reference year.
bTotal counts include federal inmates in non-secure privately operated facilities: 6,143 in 2000, 6,192 in 2001, 6,598 in 2002, 6,471 in 2003, 6,786 (June) and 7,065 (December) in 2004, and 7,233 in June, 2005.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 1. Number of Persons Held in State or Federal Prisons or in Local Jails, 19952005," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
2005b       170,5351,244,311     
    June 302,186,230175,9541,255,514747,529738
Percent change, 6/30/04-6/30/05       2.6%    3.9%      1.3%    4.7%
Annual average change, 12/31/95-6/30/05       3.4%    7.4%      2.5%    3.9%


There are more than 1,300 state prisons in the United States, where inmates are housed whose crimes do not fall under the jurisdiction of the federal justice system. States administer their own sentences and budget for corrections based on their own laws and regulations. Most prison inmates in the United States are held in a state prison. In 2005, for example, according to Prisoners in 2005, roughly 1.3 million people were incarcerated in state prisons, compared with 179,000 held in federal custody.

State Inmate Populations

State prison populations have increased each year since 1995. On June 30, 2005, state prisons held 1,255,514 inmates, an increase of 1.3% since 2004 and of 2.5% since 1995, according to Harrison and Beck in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. (See Table 6.2.)

In Prisoners in 2005 the researchers report that between January 1 and December 31, 2005, the largest increase (11.9%) in prison population occurred in South Dakota, followed by Montana (10.9%), Kentucky (10.4%), and Nebraska (7.9%). During this period, state prison populations declined in eleven states led by Georgia (down 4.6%), Maryland (2.4%), Louisiana (2.3%), and Mississippi (2.2%).

The number of state inmates under age 18 decreased from 2,485 on June 30, 2004, to 2,266 one year later, as reported in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. The number of minors in state prisons reached its peak in 1995, when 5,309 juveniles were imprisoned, and has decreased every year since. However, the number of noncitizens held in state prisons increased by 13% between 1998 and 2005, from 49,417 to 55,832, even though a drop of 2.7% was registered between 2004 and 2005. (See Table 6.1.)

State prison admissions increased 11.5% from 625,219 in 2000 to 697,066 in 2004, according to Harrison and Beck in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. Admissions outpaced releases during this period, with 672,202 prisoners released from state prisons during 2004, up from 604,858 in 2000.

State Facilities and Staffing

Various factors, many out of the control of prison officials, influence the costs of running a state prison. Among these variables are climate (heating costs in the Northeast are generally more expensive than in the South), local wage rates, and local cost of living. However, other costs are within the control of prison officials. State prisons with a high inmate-to-staff ratio, or fewer guards per prisoner, reported lower costs than those with large staffs, which had as many as one staff member for every 1.7 inmates. States with a few large prison facilities tended to have lower overall operating costs than those with many smaller facilities.

According to James J. Stephan of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in State Prison Expenditures 2001 (June 2004,, salaries, wages, and benefits for state prison employees made up about two-thirds of state prison operating expenditures in 2001. Operating costs include supplies, maintenance, and contractual services. About 4% was spent on new construction, renovations, major repairs, equipment, land, or buildings. Expenditures for new prison construction declined from $1.5 billion in 1996 to $1.1 billion in 2001.

Other operating costs for state prisons include medical care, food service, and utilities. By far the largest of these costs in 2001 was some $3.3 billion spent on prisoner medical care, followed by $1.2 billion for prisoner food, and $996 million for utilities. Nationwide, the average annual amount spent for medical care per prisoner was $2,625 (in comparison, U.S. citizens spent an average $4,370 per year on their own health care). The amount spent on prisoner medical care varied widely by state. Having a high number of inmates with drug and alcohol abuse problems can raise costs; operating larger prison facilities and thereby raising the average inmate-to-doctor ratio can save money. In 2001 Maine spent the most on prisoner medical care per inmate ($5,601), while Louisiana spent the least ($860). By region, the West averaged the most spent on medical care per inmate ($3,672), and the South averaged the least ($2,025). Annual food service costs tended to be lowest in those states, such as Mississippi ($297 per prisoner) and North Carolina ($191 per prisoner), where prisons operated their own farms and grew their own fruits and vegetables. In addition, North Carolina prisoners operate their own cannery and meat processing plant.

State and Federal Prisoners Held Elsewhere


According to the BJS in Prisoners in 2005 107,447 prisoners under the jurisdiction of federal and state correctional authorities were housed in private correctional facilities in 2005. This was an increase from 98,628 in 2004 and accounted for 6% of all state inmates and 14.4% of federal prisoners.

The number of state inmates in privately operated prisons increased from 73,860 to 80,401 between 2004 and 2005, an 8.8% increase. In comparison, the number of federal inmates in private facilities increased from 24,768 to 27,046, an increase of 9.2%. The states with the highest percentage of prisoners under private management were New Mexico (43%), Wyoming (41%), Hawaii (31%), Alaska (28%), and Montana (26%). Seventeen states had no prisoners in privately operated facilities in 2005: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia.


Local jails held 747,529 inmates as of 2005, according to Harrison and Beck in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. Of these, 73,097 were state or federal prisoners who were being housed in a local facility.


In addition to confining offenders for short terms (usually a sentence of less than one year), jails administer community justice programs that offer alternatives to incarceration and hold:

  • Suspects pending arraignment, trial, or sentencing or awaiting transfer to federal or state authorities
  • Inmates unable to transfer to other jurisdictions because of overcrowding at those facilities
  • Juveniles awaiting transfer to a juvenile detention facility
  • Mental patients being transferred to a medical facility
Persons under jail supervision, by confinement status and type of program, midyear, selected years 19952005
Confinement status and type of program1995200020042005
Not available.
aExcludes persons supervised by a probation or parole agency.
bIncludes only those without electronic monitoring.
cIncludes persons in work release programs, work gangs, and other work alternative programs.
dIncludes persons under drug, alcohol, mental health, and other medical treatment.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 8. Persons under Jail Supervision, by Confinement Status and Type of Program, Midyear 1995, 2000, and 200405," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
Held in jail507,044621,149713,990747,529
Supervised outside of a jail facilitya34,86965,88470,54871,905
   Weekender programs1,90914,52311,58914,110
   Electronic monitoring6,78810,78211,68911,403
   Home detentionb1,3763321,1731,497
   Day reporting1,2833,9696,6274,747
   Community service10,25313,59213,17115,536
   Other pretrial supervision3,2296,27914,37015,458
   Other work programsc9,1448,0117,2085,796
   Treatment programsd5,7142,2081,973
  • Military detainees being transferred to military authorities
  • Individuals under protective custody or being held as trial witnesses

Local Inmate Populations

According to Harrison and Beck in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, on June 30, 2005, the nation's jails held or supervised 819,434 inmates; 91% (747,592 inmates) of whom were behind bars and the rest (71,905 inmates) were supervised outside the jail in community service, work release, weekend reporting, electronic monitoring, and other alternative programs. The jail population increased by 4.7% between 2004 and 2005. (See Table 6.3.) This rate of increase was higher than the average annual growth of 3.9% between 1995 and 2005.

According to Harrison and Beck, the jail inmate population rose from 193 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1995 to 252 per 100,000 in 2005. (See Table 6.4.) The average daily jail population for 2005 was 733,442, an increase of 3.9% from 706,242 in 2004 and of 43.9% from 509,828 in 1995. (See Table 6.5.)

Significant changes have occurred in the profile of the jail population in the ten-year period shown in Table 6.5. Men represented the overwhelming majority of jail inmates throughout the period, but the proportion of women has increased. In 1995, 51,300 women were incarcerated, representing 10.1% of the local jail population; in 2005, 93,963 women were incarcerated, representing 12.6% of local jail inmates, as reported in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. In addition, the female jail population grew at an average annual rate of 6.2% between 1995 and 2005, compared with 3.7% for males. Although the overall number of inmates in local jails has been rising, the number of juveniles in adult jails has dropped from 7,800 in 1995 to 6,759 in 2005. (See Table 6.5.)

Number of offenders held in jail and incarceration rate, 1995 and 200005
YearNumber held in jailJail incarceration rate*
*Number of jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents on July 1 of each year.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "At Mid-Year, the Nation's Jails Supervised 819,434 Persons," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
Average daily population and the number of men, women, and juveniles in local jails, midyear, selected years 19952005
Note: Data are for June 30. Detailed data for 1995 were estimated and rounded to the nearest 100.
aThe average daily population is the sum of the number of inmates in a jail each day for a year, divided by the total number of days in the year.
bJuveniles are persons held under the age of 18.
cIncludes juveniles who were tried or awaiting trial as adults.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 9. Average Daily Population and the Number of Men, Women, and Juveniles in Local Jails, Midyear 1995, 2000, and 200405," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
Average daily populationa509,828618,319706,242733,442
Number of inmates, June 30507,044621,149713,990747,529
   Held as adultsc5,9006,1266,1595,750
   Held as juveniles1,8001,4899241,009

Facilities and Staffing

According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003, local jurisdictions had 3,376 jails in 1999, the last time the BJS conducted a jail census ( There are 3,043 counties in the United States. The number of jails, therefore, is roughly equivalent to one per county plus additional jails in large urban areas. Their rated capacity was 660,361 in 1999, and 93% of this capacity was occupied. The South had the highest number of jails (1,623), followed by the Midwest (977), West (538), and Northeast (227). Texas had the highest number of jails in any state (271), followed by Georgia (204), California (145), and Alabama (155). These numbers include only facilities that hold inmates beyond their initial arraignment; local police lock-ups, for example, where suspects are held overnight awaiting formal charges, are not included in the count.

Two-thirds of jail staff members in 1999 were male; 66% of staffers were white, 24% were African-American, 8% were Hispanic, and 2% were of other races. Eighty-nine percent of inmates in 1999 were male; 41% of inmates were white, 42% African-American, 15% Hispanic (Hispanics may be of any race), and 2% of other races.

Privately Operated Jails

In 1993 the United States had seventeen privately operating jails. By 1999, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003, the number had increased to 47 jails, with 16,656 offenders. Of these, 13,814 were inmates in the private jails and 2,842 were supervised by these facilities but not confined.

On average, private jails were bigger than those operated by public agencies. Excluding offenders supervised but not confined, the average population of the 47 private jails in 1999 was 294 inmates. Most inmates (89%) were male, as in the public jails. The racial composition was somewhat different from public facilities: 31.7% of inmates were white, 38% were African-American, 16% were Hispanic, and 14.2% were of other races.

Women accounted for nearly half of private jail staff members (46.3% of total staff, 40.8% of correctional officers). Private jail staff supervised 3.3 inmates per person, a somewhat higher workload than in publicly run jails (2.9 inmates per staff). Private correctional officers supervised 5.3 inmates each, one more than publicly employed guards (4.3).

Federal Jails

The federal government operated eleven jails in 1999, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003. These facilities held nearly as many inmates as private jails11,209, up from 5,899 in 1993. Federal jail inmates were overwhelmingly male (93%). The majority, 63%, were white; 32% were African-American, and 5% were of all other races. Federal jail staff was 74.5% male. The total employee-to-inmate ratio in 1999 was 3.6, and each correctional officer supervised 6.7 inmates. Federal jails were crowded; they operated at 39% above rated capacitybut the 1999 results were better than in 1993 when federal jails were 55% above capacity.


Rising prison populations and the need to expand the prison system in the states has led to calls for privatization. The basic assumption behind this idea is that the private sector is inherently more efficient and flexible than public bureaucracies because it is less constrained by regulations and is more cost effective. Private facilities also save the public the initial costs of prison construction, since those costs are assumed by private contractors. This saves the government from taking on long-term debt in order to build housing for more prisoners. In this view, a privatized or even a partially privatized corrections system would cost taxpayers less money. Corrections functions, however, are ultimately vested in governmental hands, and private prisons must operate under established rules and regulations. The complexity of corrections activities is such that comparisons between private and public facilities are very difficult to make, and the cost savings achieved by private corrections are in dispute because the evidence is inconclusive.

A 2002 report by Geoffrey F. Segal and Adrian T. Moore for the Reason Foundation (Weighing the Watchmen: Evaluating the Costs and Benefits of Outsourcing Correctional Services, summarized twenty-eight previous studies comparing the costs of government-run and private prisons. Of the twenty-eight studies, which were conducted by government agencies, universities, auditors, and research organizations, twenty-two found significant cost savings from privatization. Segal and Moore also found that private facilities provide at least the same quality of services as government-run facilities.

However, the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that at least one private facility experienced many more problems than comparable public facilities. In Evaluation of the Taft Demonstration Project: Performance of a Private-Sector Prison and the BOP (October 7, 2005, the Bureau reported on a federal prison in Taft, California, that has operated as a demonstration of prison privatization since 1996. According to the report, the Taft Correctional Institution (TCI) had higher numbers than expected of most types of misconduct and a higher number than anticipated of positive results for random drug tests. TCI has also experienced particularly serious incidents of prisoner misconduct, including two escapes from inside the secure-perimeter fences and one general disturbance involving up to 1,000 inmates. During the same period, the BOP had three escapes altogether from the more than 100 public prisons it operates.

Despite the uncertainty, the privately run prison population has grown at a faster rate than the correctional population as a whole. At year-end in 2005, according to the BJS (Prisoners in 2005 ), 107,447 state and federal prisoners were in privately operated facilities. (See Table 6.6.) This is an increase of 7% from 2004, when 98,628 inmates were held in private facilities and of 18.7% since 2000, when private facilities had 90,542 inmates.

The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 reported that there were 264 private prisons in 2000, more than twice the number (110) of such facilities in 1995 ( The rated capacity of these facilities was 105,133 in 2000 and 89% of this capacity was occupied. In 1995, total private prison capacity was 19,294 and 86% of this capacity was occupied. Of the 264 private prisons in 2000, 4 were maximum security, 65 were medium security, and 195 were minimum or low security. Most were relatively small132 held fewer than 100 inmates, 46 had 250 to 749 inmates, and 43 had 100 to 249 inmates.


Overall, crime in the United States has decreased since the 1990s, and yet the prison and jail populations have been increasing rapidly. The inmate population in the United States is measured by the rate of incarcerationthat is, the number of people sent by the courts to prisons and jails per 100,000 people in the general population. As reported by The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group promoting alternatives to incarceration, in New Incarceration Figures: Thirty-three Consecutive Years of Growth (December 2006,, the United States had the highest incarceration rate in the world in 2005 with 737 individuals confined in prisons or jails per 100,000 population. This rate was higher than in Russia (611), Cuba (487), Israel (209), England (148), China (118), Germany (95), or Japan (62).

Some reasons for high rates of incarceration in the United States include:

  • More people are being sent to prison; that is, fewer convicts are getting off with probation or parole.
  • Mandatory sentencing rules require that some criminals be held for longer periods.
  • Some courts are requiring stiffer sentences.


The official crime rate, reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its Uniform Crime Reports, has been in decline for more than a decade. In 1991, 758.2 violent crimes were committed for every 100,000 people; this rate dropped to 469.2 per 100,000 in 2005. The property crime rate also peaked in 1991 at 5,140.2 per 100,000 population; by 2005 the rate had fallen to 3,429.8 per 100,000. During the same period, however, the incarceration rate as reported by the BJS increased from 313 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 491 per 100,000 in 2005 (

The incarceration rate for federal and state prisoners in the United States, excluding those in jail, has risen from a low of 79 per 100,000 in 1925 to 488 in 2005, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 ( Beginning in 1925, the rate of incarceration of U.S. prisoners rose steadily for 15 years to a peak of 137 in 1939. The rate declined somewhat and more or less leveled out to between 100 and 120 for the next 35 years. Then, in the early 1970s, the rate began to rise steadily. From 1974 to 2002, the rate increased more than four-fold. The rate for males jumped from about 200 inmates per 100,000 people in the mid-1970s to over 900 per 100,000 at the turn of the twenty-first century. Female incarceration rates began to rise in the 1980s, from a steady rate of 10 per 100,000 population during the late 1970s to 65 per 100,000 by 2005.

Excluding inmates held in local jails, at midyear 2005 the United States had 488 prisoners per 100,000 population, an 18.7% increase from 411 in 1995 (Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 ). The rate of sentenced federal inmates increased by 72%, from 32 per 100,000 in 1995 to 55 per 100,000 in 2005. The rate for state prisoners increased 14%, from 379 per 100,000 in 1995 to 433 per 100,000 in 2005. (See Table 6.7.)

These two trends appear paradoxical. Part of the explanation is that the official crime rate does not track drug offensesor related money laundering offenses and illegal weapons violationswhich have been growing at high rates. As a result, the official crime rate and the incarceration rate do not always move in parallel because they do not reflect the same facts.

In Prisoners in 2005 Harrison and Beck report that the prison population increased 1.9% between 2004 and 2005; this growth rate was lower than the average annual growth rate of 3.1% since 1995. According to the BJS researchers, the number of inmates in state facilities grew 1.3% from 1,243,745 to 1,259,905 between December 31, 2004, and yearend 2005. The number of those under federal jurisdiction rose from 170,535 to 179,220 (5.1%). Overall, the annual rate of increase of prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction in 2005 (1.9%) was significantly lower than the increase experienced in 1995 (6.7%).

State and federal prisoners held in private facilities or local jails, by jurisdiction, yearend 2004 and 2005
Region and jurisdictionPrivate facilitiesLocal jails
20052004Percent of inmatesa20052004Percent of inmatesa
Not applicable. Prison and jails form an integrated system.
aBased on the total number of inmates under state or federal jurisdiction, by jurisdiction and region.
bIncludes federal inmates held in non-secure privately operated facilities (7,065 in 2004 and 7,144 in 2005).
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 7. State and Federal Prisoners Held in Private Facilities or Local Jails, by Jurisdiction, Yearend 2004 and 2005," in Prisoners in 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, (accessed January 12, 2007)
    U.S. total107,44798,628 7.0%73,09774,445 4.8%
Federalb27,04624,76814.41,0441,199 0.6
State80,40173,860 6.072,05373,246 5.4
Northeast3,5713,347 2.1%1,9901,555 1.2%
Connecticut00  0 
Maine2032 1.000 0.0
Massachusetts00  0212236 2.0
New Hampshire00  0139 0.5
New Jersey2,6002,510 9.51,7541,258 6.4
New York00  01152 0.0
Pennsylvania503366 1.200 0.0
Rhode Island00  0 
Midwest3,0303,477 1.2%3,1713,267 1.2%
Illinois00  000 0.0
Indiana115641 0.51,6952,024 6.9
Iowa00  000 0.0
Kansas00  000 0.0
Michigan0480  05352 0.1
Minnesota760307 8.2674484 7.3
Missouri00  000 0.0
Nebraska00  000 0.0
North Dakota4735 3.44543 3.2
Ohio2,0751,929 4.500 0.0
South Dakota106 0.39942 2.9
Wisconsin2379 0.1605622 2.7
South51,82348,267 8.5%60,62162,96610.0%
Alabama320244 1.12,2811,645 8.2
Arkansas00  01,0561,230 7.8
Delaware00  0 
Florida6,2614,328 7.04142 0.0
Georgia4,7784,693 9.84,9485,11710.1
Louisiana2,9522,921  8.216,18317,46944.8
Maryland129127 0.6142135 0.6
North Carolina210212 0.600 0.0
Oklahoma5,9085,90523.81,8501,807 7.5
South Carolina146 0.1384429 1.7
Texas17,51716,66810.410,56913,228 6.3
Virginia1,5691,568 4.44,6794,50213.2
West Virginia00  01,2761,07724.0
West21,97718,769 7.2%6,2715,458 2.1%
Arizona4,8004,17614.3185186 0.6
California2,8012,989 1.62,5182,452 1.5
Colorado4,0392,81918.8393638 1.8
Idaho1,5961,26323.4569133 8.3
Nevada00  01481531 .3
New Mexico2,8432,68643.31220 1.9
Oregon00  04818 0.4
Utah00  01,2461,18919.6
Washington890327 5.13321 1.9
Wyoming84655641.3231 1.1
Rates of sentenced federal and state prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents, selected years 19952005
*Totals may not add due to rounding.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Number of Sentenced Inmates per 100,000 U.S. Residents on December 31," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
2005, midyear43355488

One trend that has contributed to the growth of prison populations is the rise in female populations in state and federal prison. Although state prisons hold many fewer females than males, the rate of growth in the female state prison population is higher than that of the male populations. Between 2004 and 2005 the female population grew by 3.4%, from 102,691 to 106,174; between 1995 and 2005 the female prison population increased by an average of 4.7% annually. (See Table 6.8.) The number of male state inmates increased by 1.3% between 2004 and 2005, from 1,389,143 to 1,406,649, and averaged an annual increase rate of 3% between 1995 and 2005.

The average percent change among sentenced prisoners in state or federal custody between 1995 and 2005 was highest in the western United States, where the average increase was 3.6% and the number of prisoners grew from 207,661 to 296,341. (See Table 6.9.) The average change between 1995 and 2005 was lowest, 2.7%, in the South, where the population of sentenced prisoners grew from 446,491 to 583,132.

Prison populations vary widely by state and region of the country. In 2005 some smaller states experienced the largest growth rate in their prison populations, according to Harrison and Beck. Among the states, the average percentage change was highest in North Dakota, where the number of prisoners increased an average of 9.3% per year from 1995 to 2005, followed by West Virginia (7.9%), Oregon (7.5%), and Idaho and Wisconsin (both at 7.4%).

Crowding in Prisons

From 1995 to 2005 overall capacity in the state and federal prison systems increased as the prison population grew. Old prisons were replaced with new ones; more prisoners were housed in privately operated prisons; and additions to capacity at existing sites added new beds. These additions have failed to keep up with the demand for prison space, however. According to Harrison and Beck in Prisoners in 2005, the federal system was operating at 134% of its rated capacity in 2005. In 2005, twenty-three states and the federal government were operating prisons at or above their highest capacity. The most overcrowded systems included Massachusetts and Illinois, which operated at 133% of their rated capacity, followed by Wisconsin (127%) and North Dakota (126%). (See Table 6.10.)

Sentenced inmates in state and federal prisons, by gender, 1995, 2004, and 2005
*The total number of prisoners with a sentence of more than 1 year per 100,000 U.S. residents.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 4. Number of Prisoners under the Jurisdiction of State or Federal Correctional Authorities, by Gender, 1995, 2004, and 2005," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
All inmates
 6/30/20041,389,143 102,691
12/31/19951,057,406 68,468
Percent change, 20042005      1.3%    3.4%
Average annual change, 19952005      3.0%    4.7%
Sentenced to more than 1 year
Incarceration rate*
 6/30/2005     925    64
 6/30/2004      922    63
12/31/1995      789    47

What does crowding mean? The American Correctional Association guidelines, Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions (2003), specify that a standard cell area should measure sixty square feet, and inmates should spend no more than ten hours per day in their cells. When crowding occurs, two inmates are often assigned to a cell designed for one person, or temporary housing units are set up to take prison overflow. Overcrowding makes it more likely that disagreements will rise between inmates, leading to violence and injuries. In addition, diseases are more likely to spread among the prison population.

Jail Capacity

"Rated capacity" is the maximum number of beds or inmates that may be housed in a jail. In 2005 U.S. jails added 33,398 beds to total jail capacity, bringing it to 789,001, according to Harrison and Beck in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. (See Table 6.11.) This was the highest annual increase since 1995. Capacity use had dropped to 90% in 2001 but increased to 95% in 2005.

Sentenced state and federal prisoners, by jurisdiction, year end 1995, 2004 and 2005
Region and jurisdiction12/31/200512/31/200412/31/1995Percent change, 200405Average change, 199505aIncarceration rate, 2005
aThe average annual percentage increase from 1995 to 2005.
bPrisons and jails form one integrated system. Data include total jail and prison population.
cThe incarceration rate includes an estimated 6,200 inmates sentenced to more than one year but held in local jails or houses of correction.
dIncludes some inmates sentenced to one year or less.
ePopulation figures based on custody counts.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 4. Sentenced Prisoners under the Jurisdiction of State or Federal Correctional Authorities, Yearend 1995, 2004, and 2005," in Prisoners in 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, (accessed January 12, 2007)
    U.S. total1,461,1321,433,7281,085,022 1.9% 3.0%491
Federal166,173159,13783,663 4.4 7.156
State1,294,9591,274,5911,001,359 1.6 2.6435
Northeast162,641161,121155,030 0.9% 0.5%298
Connecticutb13,12113,24010,4190.9 2.3373
Maine1,9051,9611,3262.9 3.7144
Massachusettsc9,0818,68810,427 4.51.4239
New Hampshire2,5202,4482,015 2.9 2.3192
New Jerseyd27,35926,75727,066 2.2 0.1313
New York62,74363,75168,4861.60.9326
Pennsylvania42,34540,93132,410 3.5 2.7340
Rhode Islandb2,0251,8941,833 6.9 1.0189
Vermontb1,5421,4511,048 6.3 3.9247
Midwest252,845249,545192,177 1.3% 2.8%383
Illinoisd44,91944,05437,658 2.0 1.8351
Indiana24,41623,93916,046 2.0 4.3388
Iowad8,7378,5255,906 2.5 4.0294
Kansasd9,0688,9667,054 1.1 2.5330
Michigan49,54648,88341,112 1.4 1.9489
Minnesota9,2818,7584,846 6.0 6.7180
Missourid30,80331,06119,1340.8 4.9529
Nebraska4,3304,0383,006 7.2 3.7245
North Dakota1,3271,238544 7.2 9.3208
Ohiod45,85444,80644,663 2.3 0.3400
South Dakota3,4543,0881,87111.9 6.3443
Wisconsin21,11022,18910,3374.9 7.4380
South583,132576,292446,491 1.2% 2.7%539
Alabama27,00325,25720,130 6.9 3.0591
Arkansas13,38313,6688,5202.1 4.6479
Delawareb3,9724,0873,0142.8 2.8467
Florida89,76685,53063,866 5.0 3.5499
Georgiae48,74151,08934,1684.6 3.6533
Kentucky19,21517,14012,06012.1 4.8459
Louisiana36,08336,93925,1952.3 3.7797
Maryland22,14322,69620,4502.4 0.8394
Mississippi19,33519,46912,2510.7 4.7660
North Carolina31,52230,68327,914 2.7 1.2360
Oklahomad23,24522,91318,151 1.4 2.5652
South Carolina22,46422,73019,0151.2 1.7525
Tennesseed26,36925,88415,206 1.9 5.7440
Texas159,255157,617127,766 1.0 2.2691
Virginia35,34435,56427,2600.6 2.6464
West Virginia5,2925,0262,483 5.3 7.9291
West296,341287,633207,661 3.0% 3.6%431
Alaskab2,7812,6322,042 5.7 3.1414
Arizonae31,41131,10620,291 1.0 4.5521
California168,982164,933131,745 2.5 2.5466
Coloradod21,45620,29311,063 5.7 6.8457
Hawaiib4,4224,1742,590 5.9 5.5340
Idaho6,8186,3753,328 6.9 7.4472
Montana3,5093,1641,99910.9 5.8373
Nevada11,64411,2807,713 3.2 4.2474
New Mexico6,2926,1113,925 3.0 4.8323
Oregon13,39013,1676,515 1.7 7.5365
Utah6,2695,9153,447 6.0 6.2252
Washington17,32016,50311,608 5.0 4.1273
Wyoming2,0471,9801,395 3.4 3.9400
TABLE 6.10
Federal and state prison capacities, yearend 2005
Region and jurisdictionType of capacity measureCustody population as a percent of
RatedOperationalDesignHighest capacityaLowest capacitya
Data not available.
aPopulation counts are based on the number of inmates held in facilities operated by the jurisdiction. Excludes inmates held in local jails, in other states, or in private facilities.
bConnecticut no longer reports capacity because of a law passed in 1995.
cExcludes capacity of county facilities and inmates housed in them.
dDesign capacity defined as the original design capacity.
eIncludes capacity of private and contract facilities and inmates housed in them.
fReported standard operating capacity.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 8. Reported Federal and State Prison Capacities, Yearend 2005," Prisoners in 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2006, (accessed January 12, 2007)
New Hampshire2,4192,2382,213100109
New Jersey25,949 89 89
New York59,90461,33053,843103117
Rhode Island3,8613,8614,054 84 88
Vermont1,7161,7161,355 94120
Indiana17,59024,167 94129
Kansas9,357 97 97
Michigan49,837 99 99
Minnesota8,203 97 97
Missouri30,788 99 99
North Dakota1,0059521,005126134
South Dakota3,445 97 97
Alabamad25,20612,444 95%193%
Arkansas13,50013,28312,610 92 99
Florida88,15666,641 98130
Louisiana19,37120,050 97100
Mississippie22,403 72 72
North Carolinaf31,500116116
Oklahomae24,14524,14524,145 95 95
South Carolina23,169 97 97
Tennessee20,12219,670 96 98
Texasc162,075158,024162,075 86 88
Virginia31,358 93 93
West Virginia3,6554,2263,655 96110
Arizona28,07733,93830,051 84102
Idaho5,8455,5535,845 80 84
Nevadae11,06320,8957,766 56150
New Mexicoe6,7136,227 98106
Utah6,2036,411 79 82
Wyoming1,2831,2601,231 97102
TABLE 6.11
Capacity of local jails and percent of capacity occupied, 19952005
YearRated capacityaAmount of capacity addedbPercent of capacity occupiedc
Note: Capacity data for 199598, and 200004 are survey estimates subject to sampling error.
aRated capacity is the number of beds or inmates assigned by a rating official to facilities within each jurisdiction.
bThe number of beds added during the 12 months ending June 30 of each year.
cThe number of inmates divided by the rated capacity times 100.
Source: Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, "Table 11. Rated Capacity of Local Jails and Percent of Capacity Occupied, 19952005," in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, May 2006, (accessed January 17, 2007)
Average annual increase, 19952005    3.8%24,229


As noted above, the number of inmates in state and federal prisons has risen steadily for more than two decades. Between 1980 and 1990 the prison population more than doubled from 319,598 to 743,382, according to the BJS ( By 2005 it had doubled again to 1,525,924. When the number of jail inmates is added, nearly 2.2 million inmates were being held in U.S. prisons and jails as of December 31, 2005. To put it another way, in 1980 the U.S. incarceration rate was 139 sentenced inmates per 100,000 residents. By 2005 the rate was at its highest ever: 491 sentenced prison or jail inmates per 100,000 population. Some factors that have contributed to the rise in inmate population include increases in arrests, convictions, and the lengths of prison stays for certain types of crime and repeat offenders.

Arrest Rate

According to the FBI in Crime in the United States, total estimated arrests rose from 14.2 million in 1990 to a peak of 15.3 million in 1997. However, the number of arrests has since returned to earlier levels, declining to 14.1 million in 2005. The arrest rate itself, therefore, cannot explain the increase in prison populations or the incarceration rate. The impact of arrests on prison population figures depends on the types of crimes for which people have been detained and whether or not they are subsequently convicted and sentenced for those crimes.

Table 1.4 in Chapter 1 shows arrests by categories for 2005. More people (1,846,351) were arrested for drug abuse violations than any other specific type of crime. Arrests for drug abuse violations were up by 24.6% in between 1996 and 2005. Other categories of offenses showed a decline during this period. Arrests for murder were down by 16.5%, robbery by 16.2%, and forcible rape by 19.3%. More rigorous prosecution of drug violations may, in part, explain why the rate of growth in prison populations is higher than the growth rate of total arrests. During the 1980s and 1990s many states made drug crimes punishable by mandatory prison terms rather than probation. Prosecutions for drug offenses grew from 21% of federal defendants in 1982 to 35% in 2004, according to BJS (

Sentencing Status and Procedural Delays

According to Doris J. James of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002 (July 2004,, 28.2% of jail inmates in 2002 were detained while awaiting arraignment or trial, and about 15% were held on a prior sentence but also awaiting arraignment or trial on a new charge.

These percentages are in line with data reported in the Bureau's publication Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2002 ( by Matthew R. Durose and Patrick A. Langan. Between 1992 and 2002, the median number of days required to dispose of all cases increased from 138 to 184 days. In 2002 the median time between arrest and sentencing for violent offenses was 218 days; for property offenses, 172 days; and for drug offenses, 175 days. Of all persons convicted of a felony in state courts, 78% were sentenced within one year following arrest. Increased time spent by inmates waiting in jail for arraignment or trial is another factor that raises the count of prisoners incarcerated at any given time.

Drug Offenses

The rise in drug offenders confined by the states and federal government has contributed dramatically to crowding in prisons. According to data issued by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (, of 20,686 total sentenced federal prisoners in 1970, some 3,384, or 16.3%, were drug offenders. As the "war on drugs" gained in force in subsequent years, more and more people were sent to prison for drug offenses, and they received longer sentences as well. This was especially true in the 1980s. By 1990, the number of sentenced federal prisoners had more than doubled, to 46,575 people. Nearly all of the increase could be attributed to drug offenders, as over that same period the number of drug offenders in federal prison had increased by over 700%, to 24,297. In fact, by 1990 more than half (52.2%) of all federal prisoners were drug offenders. This trend continued through 2004, when 77,867 drug offenders were in federal prison, out of 143,864 federal prisoners under sentence. (See Table 6.12.)

TABLE 6.12
Number and percentage of federal prisoners sentenced for drug offenses, 19702004
Total sentenced and unsentenced populationSentenced population
TotalDrug offenses
NumberPercent of total
Note: These data represent prisoners housed in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities; prisoners housed in contract facilities are not included. Data for 197076 are for June 30; beginning in 1977, data are for September 30.
*As of November 2004.
Source: Ann L. Pastore and Kathleen Maguire, editors, "Table 6.57. Federal Prison Population, and Number and Percent Sentenced for Drug Offenses," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003, 31st ed., U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005, (accessed February 13, 2007)

At the state level at yearend 2003, according to the BJS, about 20% of prison inmates (250,900 prisoners) were serving time because of a conviction involving drug possession, manufacture, or trafficking. Drug convictions at the state level exploded 682% during the 1980s, from 19,000 prisoners in 1980 to 148,600 in 1990 according to the BJS ( Increases continued through 2002, when state prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses peaked at 265,100.

Drug offenses at the local level also contributed to increases in the number and rate of U.S. incarcerations. According to the BJS in "Correctional Populations and Facilities" (, an estimated 155,900 jail inmates were held for a drug offense in 2002, an increase from 114,100 in 1996. Drug trafficking accounted for most of the increase.

Time Served

Prison populations are influenced both by the length of the sentences imposed by the courts and the percentage of the sentence that felons actually serve. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the federal government and many states passed truth-in-sentencing laws as part of a widespread movement to "get tough on crime." The idea behind these laws was to ensure that all or a substantial portion of each sentence imposed would actually be served. States operating under federal truth-in-sentencing guidelines require that 85% of sentences be served. Most states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government operate under such statutes. Their effect has been longer retention of prisoners and thus a growth in prison populations.

As reported by Durose and Langan in Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2002, between 1994 and 2002 the average sentence imposed for all offenses fell from seventy-one months to fifty-three months. At the same time, however, the percentage of time actually served increased from 38% in 1994 to 51% in 2002. The net effect of these averages was to increase the time actually served for several important categories of crime. The percentage of sentenced time actually served for murder, for example, rose from 47% in 1994 to 63% in 2002, and the actual time served for murder rose from 127 months in 1994 to 142 months in 2002. Therefore, inmates are serving a higher percentage of sentenced time in the most serious crime categories; in short, the inmate population has grown because the most serious offenders are staying longer.

Parole Violations

The rising incidence of rearrest of those who have been paroled is yet another cause of the rising prison population. In 1990, 29.1% of all admissions to state prison systems were parole violators. According to Prison and Jail Inmates Midyear 2005, that proportion had increased to 34% of all admissions by 2004219,033 prisoners out of 644,084.


The costs of corrections in the United States have been rising in absolute terms, even after the country's growing population has been taken into account. Between 1980 and 1999 the number of people held behind bars would have increased more than three-fold even if the U.S. population had remained unchanged. In 1980, 139 people were in state and federal prisons for every 100,000 U.S. residents. By 2005 that ratio had increased to 491 people per 100,000 population, according to Prisoners in 2005, and costs have escalated to keep pace.

Kristen A. Hughes of the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates in Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003 (May 2006, that the total amount spent on corrections at the federal, state, and local levels rose by more than 500% from about $9.6 billion in 1982 to $63.4 billion in 2003. During this period, total expenditures for police protection also increasedfrom $19.5 billion to $89 billion. Total judicial and legal costs rose from $7.9 billion in 1982 to $42.9 billion in 2003. Local governments paid $93.9 billion of the $185.5 billion in total U.S. justice expenditures in 2003, including $57.5 billion spent on police. State governments paid $39.2 billion of the $63.4 billion spent on corrections in the United States. Figure 6.1 shows the increase in direct justice expenditures and a breakdown by level of government from 1982 through 2003.

Total spending on corrections in 1982 equaled $40 for each U.S. resident. By 2003 that figure had risen more than 400% to $209 per person. (See Table 6.13.) By comparison, the per capita cost of police protection, after inflation, rose by 240%, from $84 to $286, and judicial and legal costs rose by 320%, from $34 to $143.

Federal Prison Expenditures

Between 1982 and 2003, according to Hughes, the federal government increased its spending on corrections by 925%, from $541 million to $5.5 billion. In comparison, state expenditures for corrections increased 550.9% and local jurisdictions increased spending by 519.6%. The federal government spent more than state and local governments on intergovernmental grants-in-aid, shared revenues, and amounts paid to other governments for services performed. (See Table 6.14.)

TABLE 6.13
Total and per capita justice expenditure across government and by function, selected years 19822003
YearPopulationJustice expenditure across government and functionPolice protection expenditureJudicial and legal expenditureCorrections expenditure
Total (in millions)Per capitaTotal (in millions)Per capitaTotal (in millions)Per capitaTotal (in millions)Per capita
Note: Using the consumer price index (CPI) to adjust the 2003 per capita figure of $638 for inflation would yield approximately $335 in 1982 dollars.
Source: Kristen A. Hughes, "Appendix Table. Direct and per Capita Expenditure across Government and by Function, Selected Years, 19822003," in Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 2006, (accessed January 23, 2007)

The Budget of the United States for Fiscal Year 2008 proposes $5.4 billion for the BOP and $1.3 billion for the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee (Office of Management and Budget, February 2007). The proposal includes $169 million to expand prison capacity by completing the first phase of a new prison in Pollock, Louisiana; completing a prison in Mendota, California; and expanding the number of contract prison beds by more than 1,100. Historically, actual outlays tend to be slightly lower than the amount requested as Congress debates the amounts to be spent.

TABLE 6.14
Justice expenditures, by level of government and justice activity, selected years 19822003
TotalPolice protectionJudicial and legalCorrectionsTotalPolice protectionJudicial and legalCorrectionsTotalPolice protectionJudicial and legalCorrections
Note: Detail may not add to total because of rounding.
Source: Kristen A. Hughes, "Table 2. Total Direct and Intergovernmental Expenditure of Federal, State, and Local Governments for Each Justice Function, and Percent Change, Fiscal Years 19822003," in Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 2006, (accessed January 23, 2007)
Expenditure (in millions)
1982$4,458$2,527$1,390 $541$11,602$2,833$2,748$6,020$20,968$14,172$3,784$3,011
1987 7,496 4,231 2,271 994 20,157 4,067 4,33911,691 33,265 21,089 6,230 5,947
199217,423 7,400 7,3772,646 33,755 5,593 7,72320,439 50,115 29,65910,05210,404
199727,06512,51810,6513,896 46,444 7,501 9,80329,141 67,083 40,97613,10113,007
200027,82013,999 9,3534,467 58,165 9,78713,24935,129 78,995 48,21914,84215,934
200130,44315,01410,2305,199 63,37210,49714,44438,432 83,377 50,71815,93816,721
200234,34617,62611,0135,707 65,50811,08115,36539,062 90,485 55,08617,04218,358
200335,32320,422 9,3565,545 66,11411,14415,78239,187 93,877 57,50317,71818,656
Percent change 19822003 692.4% 708.2% 573.1%925.0%  469.9% 293.4% 474.3% 550.9%  347.7%  305.8% 368.2% 519.6%
Average annual percent change, 19822003   9.9%  10.0%   9.1% 11.2%    8.2%   6.4%   8.3%   8.9%    7.1%    6.6%   7.3%   8.6%

Corrections Expenditures by States

Based on data from the BJS in Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, corrections represented about 2.6% of state and local direct expenditures in 2005. The criminal and justice system as a whole accounted for some 7.2% of state and local budgets; another 29% went to education, 14% to public welfare, and 7% to health and hospitals. These percentages have been remarkably steady since 1977. (See Figure 6.2.)

Total state expenditures for corrections have increased steadily over the past few decades, from $4.3 billion in 1980 to $36.9 billion in 2003, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2003 ( Of this amount, states spent $30.2 billion on institutions, including $1.1 billion on construction. The percentage of state corrections budgets spent on correctional facilities has increased from 67.4% in 1980 to 77.9% in 2003. Overall, California spent the most ($5.5 billion) on corrections in 2003, followed by Texas ($3 billion), New York ($2.4 billion), and Florida ($2.2 billion). States with the lowest direct spending on corrections during fiscal year 2002 included North Dakota ($36.8 million), South Dakota ($66.9 million), New Hampshire ($79.5 million), Vermont ($79.5 million), and Wyoming ($82.8 million).

Local Jail Expenditures by Counties and Municipalities

According to Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, governments on the local level carry the bulk of justice system costs because police protection is primarily the responsibility of local communities. Some 58.2% of all justice system employees (1,374,256) are employed at the local level. (See Table 6.15.) In 2003, $57.5 billion, 69.2% of all funds spent on police protection, came from county or municipal governments. (See Figure 6.3.)

TABLE 6.15
Employment and monthly payroll of the justice system, by activity and level of government, March 2003
ActivityAll governmentsFederalStateLocalPercent distribution
Note: Detail may not add to total because of rounding. These data are based on a summation of responses from individual state and local government agencies. Local government data are estimates subject to sampling variability.
*Payroll is in millions.
Source: Kristen A. Hughes, "Table 5. Employment and Monthly Payroll of the Justice System, by Activity and Level of Government, March 2003," in Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 2006, (accessed January 23, 2007)
Total justice system
Total employees2,361,193253,367733,5701,374,256100%10.7%31.1%58.2%
2003 March payroll*$9,041$1,279$2,639$5,12310014.129.256.1
Police protection
Total employees1,118,936156,607105,933856,396100%14.0% 9.5%76.5%
2003 March payroll*$4,545$760$438$3,34710016.7 9.673.6
Judicial and legal
Total employees494,00761,984164,051267,972100%12.5%33.2%54.2%
2003 March payroll*$1,969$353$682$93410017.934.647.4
Total employees748,25034,776463,586249,888100% 4.6%62.0%33.4%
2003 March payroll*$2,526$165$1,519$842100 6.560.133.3

Harrison and Beck report in Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005 that between 1995 and 2005, the number of inmates in local jails rose from 507,044 to 733,442. (See Table 6.5.) The number of people held in local jails grew by 4.7%, from 713,990 to 747,529, between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005. However, at the end of June 2005, local jails were operating at 5% below their rated capacity. The researchers also indicate that local authorities supervised an additional 71,905 offenders in alternative programs such as work release, weekend reporting, electronic monitoring, and community service.


Work in fields, laundries, and kitchens has always been a part of many inmates' lives; some even participate in work-release programs. According to James J. Stephan and Jennifer C. Karburg of the Bureau of Justice Statistics in Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2000 (October 16, 2003,, the last such census published, 91% of all correctional facilities had some type of work program. Furthermore, 92% of state and federal facilities operated work programs, compared with 73% of private facilities.

The most common type of work program involved facility support; 100% of federal facilities had this type of program. The second most common work programs were public works programs; 66% of state and 47% of private facilities had these types of programs. About 46% of confinement facilities had prison industries, 29% operated farms and other agricultural activities, and 60% were involved in outside public works projects, such as road and park maintenance.

Work in Federal Prisons

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal prison inmates are required to work if they are medically able to do so ( Their work assignments typically contribute to the facility operations and maintenance in such areas as food service, plumbing, painting, or landscaping. Inmates earn $0.12 to $0.40 per hour for these in-house work assignments. The BOP also reports that 17% of federal prison inmates work in Federal Prison Industries (FPI) factories. This program provides slightly higher wages to inmates, from $0.23 to $1.15 per hour as of fiscal year 2006. Work includes manufacturing jobs in such areas as furniture, electronics, textiles, and graphic arts. With a high school diploma or its equivalent inmates can be promoted to a managerial role.


UNICOR is the trade name for Federal Prison Industries, Inc., the government corporation that employs inmates in federal prisons. UNICOR should not be confused with state prison industry programs administered by the states. Under UNICOR, established in 1934, federal inmates get job training by producing goods and services for federal agencies. In 2007 items produced by inmates included clothing and textiles (military items and apparel, protective clothing for law enforcement, mattresses, medical textiles), electronics (circuit boards, electrical cables, outdoor lighting systems/flood lights), industrial products (prescription and non-prescription safety eyewear, traffic and safety signage, license plates, air filters, perimeter fencing), office furniture (systems furniture, seating, and office furniture, filing and storage products). Inmates also provide fleet management and vehicular components (fleet vehicle and vehicular component remanufacturing, fleet vehicle uplifting, and fleet management services), recycling (computers and electronic equipment), and other services (data services, printing and binding, contact center/help desk support).

UNICOR products and services must be purchased by federal agencies and are not for sale in interstate commerce or to nonfederal entities. UNICOR is not permitted to compete with private industry. If UNICOR cannot make the needed product or provide the required service, federal agencies may buy the product from the private sector through a waiver issued by UNICOR.

According to the FPI FY 2006 Annual Report, UNI-COR employed 21,205 inmates in 108 factories at 79 prison locations in 2006 ( Approximately 18% of all eligible inmates in BOP facilities worked for UNICOR that year. The agency's goal is to employ 25% of all work-eligible prisoners who have no existing job skills.

UNICOR is a self-supporting government corporation that may borrow funds from the U.S. Treasury and use the proceeds to purchase equipment, pay wages to inmates and staff, and invest in expansion of facilities. However, no funds are appropriated for UNICOR operations. During fiscal year 2006 its sales topped $717.5 million.

Work in State Prisons

State and local governments prevent prisoners from working at some jobs because they would be in competition with private enterprise or workers. In 1936 Congress barred convicts from working on federal contracts worth more than $10,000. In 1940 Congress made it illegal to transport convict-made goods through interstate commerce. These rules were changed in 1979 when Congress established the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). The PIECP allows state correctional industries that meet certain requirements to sell inmate-produced goods to the federal government and in interstate commerce.

Some private industries pay inmates minimum wage, but many prisons take most of prisoners' wages to pay for room and board, restitution, family support, and taxes. The Bureau of Justice Assistance reported that from December 1979 through June 30, 2003, PIECP participants had paid wages of $264 million ( After deductions for victims programs ($24.5 million), room and board ($70.6 million), family support ($15.7 million), and taxes ($35.6 million), inmates had earned $117.8 million.

Many prison administrators generally favor work programs. Some believe that work keeps prisoners productive and occupied, thus leading to a safer prison environment. Another cited benefit is that work programs prepare prisoners for re-entry into the non-institutionalized world by helping them develop job skills and solid work habits that will be needed for post-incarceration employment. Some prisons report that inmates who work in industry are less likely to cause problems in prison or be rearrested after release than convicts who do not participate in work programs.

In addition, many inmates report that they like the opportunity to work. They assert that it provides relief from boredom and gives them some extra money. Inmates find that the money they earn helps them to meet financial obligations for their families even while they are in prison.

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Correctional Facilities: Prisons and Jails

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